Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
It seems like the entire world has gone viral. The language of viral contagion is consistently used to describe, regulate and legislate a wide array of issues—from the spread of ideologies, fashion and digital memes, through terrorism and migration, to sexuality and so-called racial impurity. In a time of a global pandemic, it seems particularly urgent to ask: what is contagion? What are some of the reasons for this pervasive use of the concept of contagion and what are its implications? Why are some contagions perceived as requiring containment while others are encouraged, and why are some populations quarantined for their own protection, while others are confined as carriers of viral risk and still others are left exposed? This course will explore these questions through film and media, as well as historical and theoretical writings, from different contexts around the world.

We will begin by considering the notion of contagion within the framework of communicable diseases, its historical definition and management, and the kinds of affects and practices it invoked. We will then turn to investigate the operation of the concept of contagion as it has been transposed into the discursive realms of the “war on terror,” anti-immigration, and capitalist consumerism. Does contagion mean the same thing in these diverse realms or does it function rather in completely different manners? How do these disparate realms inform each other through this shared concept? By stressing human exposure and interdependence, what other—possibly desirable?—forms of collective being or action might contagion suggest? This course will emphasize close readings of both written and visual texts, as well as collaborative thinking on a contemporary matter. To complete this course, students will write two short papers and develop a final project.
People call movies like Avatar (dir. James Cameron) (2009) “epics.” Do post-modern movies like Avatar mimic the ancient Greek poet Homer’s pre-modern epic, the Odyssey? What can we learn about any nation’s interests and concerns today from its engagement with the masterpieces of either its own tradition or with other traditions from a different time and place? How do the world’s literatures circulate around the globe? In Comparative Literature 60A, we read some of the greatest texts of World Literature – from the ancient Greek, Argentine, English, French-Caribbean, German, Irish, Nigerian, Persian, and U.S. traditions – in dialogue with one another as a way of answering these questions. Texts include the poems of the 14th century Persian poet and mystic Hafiz in various translations and as they were read by the 19th century German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; the Persian poet Firdowsi’s 10th century epic, the Shahnameh, and its afterlife in miniature illustrations, oral recitations in coffee houses, and re-significations as Iran’s national epic; the British medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales as they have been taken up by the contemporary British-Nigerian rapper and performance artist Patience Agbabi (b. 1965); the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles’ Antigone (442 b.c.e.) as it is retold in Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa play (1986); Sophocles’ Philoctetes (409 b.c.e.) as it dialogues with Irish playwright Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy (1990 /1991) and the U.S poet Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty One Love Poems” (1974-76); Euripides’ Bacchae (405 b.c.e.) in conversation with Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (1973), and Shakespeare’s Tempest (1611) in dialogue with French Caribbean writer Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest (1969) and as it was performed by inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange, Kentucky, in 2005. - These dialogues will help us understand the many ways that the traditions we study can have multiple afterlives across traditions and around the world.

Comparative Literature 60A is the first quarter of the “World Literature” track in the Comp. Lit. major, but the course is open to all students. It fulfills the GE IV and VIII campus-wide requirements.

Requirements for this course include: Doing the assigned readings, watching the lecture videos, watching two movies and short film clips, quizzes, Discussion Board posts on the readings, and Workshop Exercises on the readings. There is no midterm and no final in this course.
This course surveys modern Palestinian cultural production from the late Ottoman period to the present moment. How do Palestinian authors, film makers and artists record, respond to, and communicate their personal and collective experiences? Thematically, this course focuses on representations of disappearance—due to expulsion, settler colonialism, and appropriation—and of the fragmentation of Palestinian lives and temporalities—through checkpoints, refugee camps and sieges. Methodologically, this course investigates the particular ways in which literature coveys past events and allows for experiences and insights that are different than those produced by historical documentation. It further explores the tension between the political and the aesthetic: how have Palestinian authors and artists dedicated their works to shaping their nation and its struggle, while at the same time insisting on the aesthetic and psychological values of their work, situating themselves in relation to other literary traditions, or expressing their discontent with nationalism as a framework? Readings and viewings may include works by Khalil al-Sakakini, Ghassan Kanafani, Emile Habiby, Sahar Khalifeh, Elias Khoury, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Adania Shibli, Ibtisam Azem, Elia Suleiman, Scandar Copti, Mona Hatoum, Larissa Sansour, Hana Farah and others. All works will be discussed in their English translations; students are welcome, however, to read them in the original Arabic.
The course examines the convergence of military and media technologies
as ways of seeing and understanding the world.  This convergence assumes
a panoptic view of the world that increasingly penetrates every part of
social space.  We will discuss the use of visualization, gaming, social
credit, and military technologies, and theories of the social
construction and use of space.  Surveillance media give rise to a space
that is at once psychological and political, personal and social.  In
digital media in particular, material and psychological ideas of space
converge.  We consider both popular representations of mediated social
space and the relation of subjectivity to emergent military media
technologies.  Readings include theoretical texts by Heidegger, Virilio,
Mbembe, and Warren, films including Dr. Strangelove and Code 46, video
game play, science fiction by Philip K. Dick, experimental video, and
cultural theory.  Assignments are graded equally and include in-class
essays and a final presentation.
Following the 1979 revolution and the hostage crisis, the predominant image of Iran in the West has been that of a theocratic, pariah state, loath to adhere to international conventions. The severing of diplomatic ties between Iran and the US, which limited direct access and exchange, further contributed to stereotypical representations of Iran and Iranians as not only hostile to but also unreadable by Western norms. The question at the center of our inquiries in this course is how we might read Iran through its own cultural artifacts produced over the past four decades: poems, short stories, flash fiction, blogs, public speeches, short films, and cartoons. Our readings will explore whether these forms of representation engage Iranian audiences or aim for a broader global reach. While our readings will be mediated through translation, we will explore what resists translation or appears to be untranslatable, and how might we tap into moments in social cultural and political history to make them legible.
This course offers an overview of Latin American science fiction, including short stories, novels and film, with a special emphasis on the way Latin American writers engage critically with the dominant modes of the genre, challenging science fiction’s associations with colonial discourse or the North American technological imaginary.